DENVER — On the steps of the Denver City and County Building, the community held a candlelight vigil Thursday night for the more than 300 unhoused individuals who died on the streets of the Denver metro in 2023.
“We’re all human,” said Tammy Garza, who attended in honor of her two friends.
For the 34th year, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless organized the event, lining the steps with 311 luminaries. Each one displayed the name of a person who passed away.
Vonzel Sawyer Jr. was there for his cousin, Janaldo Mims Jr., who passed away in July at 43 years old.
“We care about our people, we sincerely do. And I think that's probably the main reason why we even are having this event,” said Sawyer Jr.
He said his cousin was one of the lucky ones who was laid to rest by family. Cathy Alderman with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless said that's not the case for a majority of the individuals who were remembered in this year's ceremony.
“Many of the individuals that we'll be reading names of tonight didn't have a funeral. They didn't have an event honoring the end of their life. So we think it's really critical that we hold this space both for those individuals, but as well as the community who has suffered this loss,” said Alderman.
Last year, 270 names were read. Alderman said accidental overdose deaths are partially to blame for this year's increase.
“We really need to invest in housing, we need to invest in shelter. And I think the city is making great progress. But clearly, we're not moving fast enough,” said Alderman.